Bayer Leverkusen’s revival under Xabi Alonso continues with derby delight | Bundesliga

If Leverkusen have spent most of the campaign so far hiding their bright light under a bushel, it was shining high in the grey skies last weekend as they steamrollered long-time league-leaders Union Berlin. The highlight of Englische Woche, though? Don’t be fooled. If Sunday was the main course this, a 15-minute hop behind enemy lines on a fresh Wednesday night, was the dessert.

That half-hour of second-half heaven against Union, where a goalless first half became a 5-0 virtuoso display, felt like a placebo in the context of the midweek derby at Köln, like a little holiday from reality. It had shown Leverkusen could play, but we knew that already. This showed they have the guts as well as the swagger (neither of which have been on display nearly enough this season). The jubilant reaction of Xabi Alonso – a twitchy, tense presence on the touchline all evening – and his staff at the end showed how much this meant.

Leverkusen’s tough midfielder Robert Andrich, disarmingly honest and increasingly the team’s spokesman while a season that had promised so much fell through the floor, warned that was the case as the embers of Sunday’s performance still glowed. “It’s important,” he had stressed, “that we don’t think it’s all about tra-la-la football.” Beating Union had sprung Die Werkself from the bottom three for the first time in weeks. It was only the first step.

If ever a challenge could have been artificially concocted to give weight to Andrich’s words then this kleine Derby would have been it. Leverkusen were on the rack for much of it, particularly in a first half in which they were unimaginative in attack and uncoordinated without the ball. They trailed from the half-hour, when Benno Schmitz chested down and smashed in a perfect volley from the edge of the box. It was the defender’s first Bundesliga goal for the club, almost four-and-a-half years after joining, his first goal of any sort since scoring for Bayern Munich’s second team nine seasons ago. His teammate Linton Maina held his head in his hands, unable to believe it. Little wonder one pressroom wag was overheard referring to Schmitz as the “Kölsche Cafu”. The goal underlined the superior enterprise and poise of Steffen Baumgart’s side, despite their inferior resources.

This was the moment for Leverkusen to show that the players are equipped for the task of pulling away from the bottom, rather than showcasing their feted coach’s ideas. “It’s not that easy to mentally accept the situation that you’re in and go from there,” the club’s sporting director Simon Rolfes told the Guardian afterwards. “[Alonso] stepped in without time to train the team, more or less. It’s great work from him to be very efficient in the few sessions we had, and from Sunday onwards we have six weeks to use like summer preparation.”

Fans at Köln let off flares
A fearsome atmosphere at Köln appears to have inspired Leverkusen. Photograph: Thilo Schmülgen/Reuters

Leverkusen rode their luck, especially during a sequence of play early in the second half when Köln skipper Jonas Hector crashed one off the crossbar from way out and then Lukas Hradecky saved from Sargis Adamyan. If either of those chances had gone in, we might have found out exactly how much stomach the visitors really had. On the back of that, though, Leverkusen began to scrap. Alonso’s substitutions worked, with one of them, Nadiem Amiri, levelling from a direct free-kick with 25 minutes to go. His goading of some of the home fans as he celebrated showed he knew what was at stake.

For even if Leverkusen have the greater riches, Köln have the richer history, and their big derby is Borussia Mönchengladbach. “We have a game against a team from the neighbourhood, for whom it will be a derby,” their head of football Thomas Kessler teased before the game. “Since Leverkusen are not doing well at the moment, it would be huge for them if they win against us.” Thanks to an electrifying counter started and finished by Moussa Diaby – their best player on the night – six minutes after Amiri’s equaliser, they did just that.

This season has been a climb and then some for Köln. First there was the sudden exit of Anthony Modeste, whose goals in his remarkable renaissance-season lifted them back into Europe – before Borussia Dortmund whisked him away as a short-term, big-money locum for Sébastien Haller, leaving only anger and indignation behind. Then there was dealing with Europe itself, always a challenge for a club of these means, but made all the harder by the eruption of violence in Nice on the Europa Conference League group stage’s opening night in September.

The emotional outpouring at the return with Nice last week, a gala night to hit all the right notes which ended in heroic failure, was still being recovered from. Needing a win to advance, Effzeh had trailed 2-0 to ex-Gladbach coach Lucien Favre’s men, clawed back to parity and just missed adding the finishing touch. Yet it still satisfied, for this is a club that deals in hope. Accordingly, Baumgart spoke before Leverkusen about being on the front-foot, despite a raft of injuries. “Our approach is to remain bold,” he said, or as the city’s daily Express put it: “Steffen Baumgart wants to go back to Baumgart football.” They did just that, but were ultimately unable to sustain their efforts, gravity doing its thing.

Maybe there is room to build in the winter window. The Conference League did more for Köln than it does for many. Three sold-out home games (at 50,000 fans a time), plus prize money, has pumped an estimated €10m extra into Kölner coffers, which could make a significant difference to the rest of their season. “The team have more than done their duty,” said managing director Christian Keller, and as the fans’ warm post-match response made clear. It’s just ironic that it could be the challenge of Köln’s atmosphere that belatedly sparks Leverkusen’s flagging season.

Talking points

It was joy for Bayern tempered by potential disappointment for the world in Munich. The champions’ 6-1 win over Werder Bremen, after the promoted side had contributed so much to the first half of this Bundesliga season, felt like the first real glimpse of the beast since the opening weeks of the season. Jamal Musiala can lay claim to being the best player in the league at the moment and Leon Goretzka, the scorer of the ridiculously stylish third, looks to be back in imperious form. That all paled in comparison with Wednesday morning’s news that Sadio Mané was in danger of missing the World Cup with a calf injury sustained in the game. After L’Equipe initially reported the Senegal forward as definitely out, the country’s president Macky Sall ended the day praying for good news.

Jamal Musiala continued his spectacular form for Bayern against Werder Bremen.
Jamal Musiala continued his spectacular form for Bayern against Werder Bremen. Photograph: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images

With eye-catching wins for Leipzig (against Freiburg) and Eintracht Frankfurt (in a 4-2 win over Hoffenheim), Dortmund slipped out of the top four with defeat at Wolfsburg, the result of “being too sleepy at the start,” according to Niklas Süle. Meanwhile Niko Kovac’s side are now unbeaten in eight, having ridden out the very public row between skipper Max Arnold – playing superbly at present – and the excommunicated Max Kruse.

European roundup: Union Berlin fail to retake top spot as Leverkusen run riot | European club football

Union Berlin’s punishing schedule finally took its toll on Sunday with a 5-0 defeat after a disastrous second half at Bayer Leverkusen to leave Bayern Munich top of the Bundesliga.

Moussa Diaby scored twice and Adam Hlozek and Mitchel Bakker aalso found the net after former Union midfielder Robert Andrich had opened the scoring.

It was Union’s heaviest defeat of the season having previouslyconceded only nine goals in 12 games.

Union’s third defeat left Bayern two points clear with two rounds remaining before the league’s extended winter break to accommodate the World Cup in Qatar.

Both teams cancelled each other out in a lacklustre first half with few highlights. Then Andrich broke the deadlock right after the break with a low shot after a corner.

The next goal was a gift from goalkeeper Lennart Grill – who is on loan from Leverkusen – when he failed to control a backpass and the ball fell to Diaby, who finished off a post.

The French forward grabbed his second two minutes later, rounding off a counterattack started by Bakker as Union had pushed for a response.

Nadim Amiri crossed for Hlozek to score his first Bundesliga goal with his heel in the 68th, then Hlozek set up Bakker for the fifth in the 76th.

The win was only Leverkusen’s third of the season in the league and lifted them out of the relegation zone.

Danilo Pereira sees his header on its way into the net for PSG’s winner
Danilo Pereira (right) sees his header on its way into the net for PSG’s winner. Photograph: Stéphane Mahé/Reuters

Paris Saint-Germain needed a late goal from defender Danilo Pereira to scrape a 2-1 win at Lorient and restore a five-point lead at the top of Ligue 1.

Pereira headed home Neymar’s corner in the 81st minute as unbeaten PSG maintained their comfortable gap over second-place Lens.

Lionel Messi was rested because of some inflammation in his achilles tendon. The Argentina star, who will look to win the World Cup for the first time this winter, is expected to resume training next week.

Messi was replaced in attack by 20-year-old Hugo Ekitiké, who set up Neymar’s opening goal after nine minutes. Neymar’s 11th league goal moved him level with teammate Kylian Mbappé at the top of the scoring charts.

Fourth-place Lorient equalized in the 53rd through Terem Moffi’s ninth goal of the campaign. Enzo Le Fée sent the Nigeria striker running clear and Moffi fired past goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Moffi hit the crossbar shortly after as Lorient got on top, but then failed to pick up Pereira from Neymar’s corner.

In La Liga, Atlético Madrid’s fans expressed their disapproval after a 1-1 home draw against 10-man Espanyol, a result that extended their winless streak to four matches in all competitions.

João Félix came off the bench to salvage the draw with a 78th-minute equalizer after the visitors had opened the scoring through Sergi Darder in the 62nd. Espanyol played a man down from the 28th after defender Leandro Cabrera was shown a straight red card for a foul on Álvaro Morata.

Atlético pressed until the end but could not find a winner, prompting jeers after the final whistle.

“The reaction from the fans is understandable, no one is happy,” Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak said. “Until we start doing well on the field again, things won’t get better.”

This story will be updated

Champions League roundup: Eintracht Frankfurt reach last 16 for the first time | Champions League

Eintracht Frankfurt staged a second-half comeback, scoring twice in 10 minutes to beat the hosts Sporting Lisbon 2-1 on Tuesday and qualify for the Champions League last 16 for the first time, knocking the Portuguese club out of the competition.

Sporting needed only a point to advance and they took the lead when the winger Arthur Gomes volleyed in at the far post after a looping cross was headed on in the 39th minute.

Eintracht, the Europa League champions last season, hardly got a look-in during the first half but came out fighting after the break, needing a win to secure a top-two finish.

A handball by the Sporting captain, Sebastian Coates, in the 62nd minute gave Frankfurt a penalty and Daichi Kamada drew them level with a well-taken spot-kick.

The France international Randal Kolo Muani then powered into the box and drilled home the winner 10 minutes later to complete their comeback and secure second place behind Tottenham in Group D.

Bayern Munich completed a perfect group stage by beating fellow qualifiers Internazionale 2-0 thanks to goals from Benjamin Pavard and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting in their final Group C game.

Bayern ended top on 18 points, eight ahead of second-placed Inter with both teams having already reached the knockout stage.

In Pilsen, Ferran Torres scored in each half as Barcelona eased past Viktoria Plzen 4-2 but both sides were already eliminated from the competition. Barcelona remained in third place in Group C behind Bayern and Inter and will drop into the Europa League. Plzen ended their European campaign without a point.

Barcelona, who rested a number of regulars including Robert Lewandowski, struck six minutes into the match when the defender Marcos Alonso poked the ball over the line.

The visitors doubled the lead just before the break when Jordi Alba deftly nodded the ball to the feet of an unmarked Torres who calmly slotted the ball into the net for a goal initially ruled out before a VAR review.

The Czech champions briefly cut the deficit in half when Tomas Chory converted a penalty after winning a spot-kick in the 51st minute before Torres nabbed his second of the night on the break minutes later.

Plzen responded with a glancing Chory header in the 63rd minute to potentially set up a nervy finish until Pablo Torre slammed a shot into the roof of the net on his Barcelona debut to wrap up the victory.

Porto’s Iranian forward Mehdi Taremi celebrates after scoring against Atlético Madrid
Porto’s Iranian forward Mehdi Taremi celebrates after scoring against Atlético Madrid Photograph: Miguel Riopa/AFP/Getty Images

Goals from Mehdi Taremi and Stephen Eustáquio helped Porto to secure a 2-1 win at home against Atlético Madrid to finish top of Group B.

Porto had already qualified for the last 16 but leapfrogged Club Brugge to finish as group winners with 12 points, one point ahead of the Belgian club who also went through. Atlético finished last, failing even to qualify for the Europa League knockout round playoffs.

Porto went ahead in the fifth minute when the forward Taremi tapped in a cross from Evanilson, registering his fifth goal in the Champions League this season.

The midfielder Eustáquio doubled Porto’s lead in the 24th minute, drilling the ball into the bottom corner after Galeno sprinted down the left and played a cross inside the box.

Atlético’s Antoine Griezmann found the net in the 68th minute but the referee had already blown the whistle for a foul from Rodrigo De Paul on Galeno in the build-up, while the Porto keeper Diogo Costa saved a shot from Angel Correa six minutes later.

The Porto defender Ivan Marcano scored an own goal in added time, but it did not do much damage to Porto who went on to seal three points.

Club Brugge finished second in their Champions League group after failing to win at Bayer Leverkusen, drawing 0-0 in their final Group B game.

Brugge had already qualified for the round of 16 in February following their first four games after emerging as the surprise package of the Champions League group campaign.

But a 4-0 defeat at home against Porto last week and the draw at the Bay Arena on Tuesday meant they ended on 11 points from their six games, one behind Porto.

Leverkusen finished third to take a Europa League place ahead of Atletico on their head-to-head results against the Spanish club.

Brugge came closest to victory when their Canada international Tajon Buchanan struck the upright shortly after half-time although Leverkusen were the more attacking and forced visiting goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to make some key saves. Mignolet kept five clean sheets in the six group games.

Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen lessons may have to wait after rude awakening | Bundesliga

This was it. The start of the Xabi Alonso-as-coach story, where one of the most natural schemers in a midfield would prove himself as adroit and successful with the backdrop of the touchline. If there was any assumption that his former Liverpool teammate Steven Gerrard would be a certain type of manager based on his assurance as a player, that perhaps goes double for Alonso on the back of three seasons of displaying his philosophy at Real Sociedad’s B team.

The view for a while has been that Alonso is so cerebral that he should be on an inexorable path to familiar ground at the top, with an eventual return to Bayern Munich earmarked by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge back in 2020 (“he will be a coach who may be of interest to Bayern at some point in the future”) and reflagged since his arrival at Bayer Leverkusen.

He seemed to have found the perfect ramp in that direction. There are few Champions League-level clubs where the pressure is milder than Leverkusen. Alonso will have time, space, less fervent fans breathing down his neck than at many of the club’s Bundesliga peers (think just down the road at Borussia Mönchengladbach, a role that Alonso could have easily ended up in), plus plenty of talent and a budget to refine his squad within reason.

We might consider – perhaps especially so in the light of Gerrard’s current struggles – if we shouldn’t be talking about chucking someone the keys to the Maserati before they’ve passed their driving test, especially given the escalation of Alonso’s opening days in situ. His Bundesliga debut was a breeze: a 4-0 win over Schalke at the BayArena, with Alonso’s light autumn jacket still lightly swinging on the coat stand in his new office. Subsequently the real size of his task has become more apparent.

There was an argument that the midweek Champions League defeat by Porto had been unjustly harsh against canny opponents. Saturday was a different story. Leverkusen were visiting Eintracht Frankfurt, coming off their own Champions League exertions and less used to the schedule churn, with fewer resources to deal with it than Die Werkself.

Dear Xabi, meet rude awakening. “If you lose 5-1 and the opponent’s manager not only speaks of a ‘deserved’ victory for his team,” wrote Stephan von Nocks in Kicker, “but also criticises their ‘wasting chances’, as Markus Krösche did to Sky, then it’s red alert.”

Players of the quality of Patrik Schick, Moussa Diaby and Jonathan Tah, to name but three, are way short of their best, which spells trouble for Alonso, who replaced Gerardo Seoane. “The problems don’t go away with the coach,” insisted Robert Andrich. “It’s still those on the pitch who are responsible for it.” His midfield colleague Kerem Demirbay put it more succinctly: “We’re in deep shit.”

There is no argument there. If you wanted the juxtaposition of talent versus form in a tidy individual package from this latest setback, take Piero Hincapié. The defender conjured an equaliser 10 minutes into the second half with a Van Persie-esque diving header and, from there, was the protagonist of a sequence that torpedoed Alonso’s afternoon in less than 15 minutes. Two minutes after his goal, Hincapié was caught dozing as Randal Kolo Muani beat him to Christopher Lenz’s cross to edge Eintracht back in front. Then his misjudged header on the halfway line allowed Jesper Lindström to streak away and lift home a crafty finish for the third. To top it off, he brought down a rampaging Kolo Muani with a last-ditch challenge to (eventually, after VAR consultation) give the hosts a second penalty of the afternoon, which Daichi Kamada rattled away as he had the first, by which point Hincapié had received a second yellow for the foul. The time that elapsed between Hincapié’s header hitting the net and his desperate lunge on Kolo Muani was 11 minutes and 52 seconds.

It is, so far, one of those seasons for Leverkusen. The 20-year-old Hincapié is a player of considerable potential but he, like his team, is in a tailspin at the moment. When former Leverkusen striker Lucas Alario apologetically scored the fifth in the closing minutes, every bit of good work done against Schalke had been undone, goal-for-goal.

Lucas Alario scores Eintracht Frankfurt’s fifth goal
Lucas Alario scores Eintracht Frankfurt’s fifth goal during a second half in which Leverkusen imploded. Photograph: Joachim Bywaletz/DeFodi Images/Shutterstock

If they were in the game before that quarter-hour implosion it was only so in theory, not practice. Leverkusen had been clinging on by their fingernails up to then, given the run-around by Good Eintracht (you never really know whether they or Bad Eintracht, distant relatives in the guise of the same team, are going to turn up this season), with the reunited duo of Kolo Muani and Mario Götze pulling their guests one way and then the other. The awful truth for Leverkusen is that they got off lightly here.

Today they sit in 16th place, synonymous with the relegation playoff spot, with only eight points from 10 games and with just the thus-far-hopeless Schalke and Bochumbelow. Fellow strugglers Wolfsburg are up next at home, and questions of philosophy and vista will wait. Alonso and his team need points already, and fast.

Quick Guide

Bundesliga results


Schalke 0-3 Hoffenheim, RB Leipzig 3-2 Hertha Berlin, Wolfsburg 2-2 Mönchengladbach, Werder Bremen 0-2 Mainz, Stuttgart 4-1 Bochum, Eintracht Frankfurt 5-1 Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich 5-0 Freiburg, Union Berlin 2-0 Dortmund, Cologne 3-2 Augsburg

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Talking points

The first instalment of the Bundesliga’s Super Sunday was Union Berlin remaining top by comprehensively beating Borussia Dortmund 2-0, putting them away with an economy and ruthlessness that has become their trademark. A first-half Janik Haberer double did the job – the first taking advantage of an air kick by Gregor Kobel, and the second a zinging drive from the edge of the area. Their immense, dogged second-half defensive display was even more impressive when you consider they had two days’ less rest than BVB, having battled to the end to beat Malmö late on in the Europa League on Thursday. What would Edin Terzić give for a team with the structure and personality of Union?

Union Berlin players celebrate in front of their fans after the 2-0 defeat of Dortmund.
Union Berlin players celebrate in front of their fans after the 2-0 defeat of Dortmund. Photograph: Lisi Niesner/Reuters

Part two was super for Bayern, who gave us their most convincing domestic display since the opening day but less so for Freiburg, who remain third despite being on the wrong end of a 5-0 scoreline. The excellence of Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting in a centre-forward role will continue to stoke debates on replacing Robert Lewandowski like-for-like – though Julian Nagelsmann was delighted with their renewed swagger, the implication of Choupo-Moting with Serge Gnabry, the in-form Leroy Sané and company was unmistakable.

In the week that they finally fired Pellegrino Materazzo, Stuttgart got their first win of the season, eventually easing past Bochum 4-1 with Silas’s brace recalling happier times under the deposed coach.

Marcus Thuram’s excellent double for Mönchengladbach wasn’t quite enough for a win at Wolfsburg, but he is now up to seven for the season and offers their campaign real hope of hitting the heights. “Thuram’s a world-class striker,” enthused Wolfsburg’s sporting director Marcel Schäfer, even if the Frenchman’s own coach Daniel Farke suggested “he’s still getting used to this central role”. Gladbach fear he might be getting used to a new club before long; Thuram is out of contract in the summer and will be hot property.

European roundup: Dusan Vlahovic scores winner for Juventus at Torino | European club football

The Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic scored a late goal to secure a 1-0 win at local rivals Torino in Serie A after both teams struggled to create clear-cut chances.

The pressure was on for Juve and their manager Massimiliano Allegri after a 2-0 Champions League loss at Maccabi Haifa on Tuesday, but their lacklustre performance in the first half gave the injury-hit visitors little cause for optimism.

The first 45 minutes of the Turin derby was a tame affair with little to cheer for either side. Torino had half-chances around the box but they were snuffed out by the Juve defence.

Vlahovic had the first chance of the match after 34 minutes but his fellow Serb Vanja Milinkovic-Savic made an impressive save and then kept out Manuel Locatelli’s effort.

Vlahovic then lost his marker in the 74th minute and tapped the ball in from close range after an assist from Danilo, securing a much-needed win for Allegri’s team who are now seventh with 16 points from 10 games. Torino are 11th with 11 points.

In France, Lorient missed out on the chance to move provisionally top of Ligue 1 as they were held to a goalless stalemate at home by nine-man Reims on Saturday.

Lorient lacked their usual creativity and failed to take advantage after Dion Lopy was given Reims’ eighth red card this season early in the second half. Emmanuel Agbadou was also sent off in stoppage time.

The result leaves Lorient in second place on 26 points from 11 games, behind Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference ahead of the French champions’ clash with third-placed Marseille on Sunday. Reims are 14th on nine points.

Lorient started brightly but suffered a setback when the forward Terem Moffi was forced off injured in the 24th minute.

The Reims midfielder Lopy got a second yellow card and was sent off a minute after half-time, but the visitors continued to dominate and they also coped with Agbadou’s dismissal to earn a point.

Bayer Leverkusen’s Spanish head coach Xabi Alonso reacts during his side’s 5-1 defeat by Eintracht Frankfurt.
Bayer Leverkusen’s Spanish head coach Xabi Alonso reacts during his side’s 5-1 defeat by Eintracht Frankfurt. Photograph: Daniel Roland/AFP/Getty Images

Eintracht Frankfurt climbed to fourth in the Bundesliga after thrashing 10-man Bayer Leverkusen 5-1 at home, including two penalties by the Japan midfielder Daichi Kamada.

The Europa League champions Frankfurt have 17 points after 10 games and trail third-placed Hoffenheim on goal difference. Leverkusen slipped into the relegation zone in 16th with eight points.

After a series of missed chances, Leverkusen were awarded a penalty before the break when Jesper Lindstrøm was brought down in the box by Edmond Tapsoba. The forward Randal Kolo Muani took the penalty, which was saved by Lukas Hradecky, but the VAR ruled the Leverkusen keeper was off his line, forcing a retake. Kamada took the second attempt and made it 1-0.

Leverkusen, playing under new coach Xabi Alonso, drew level in the 56th minute through a header from Piero Hincapié after a free-kick, but their joy was short-lived as Kolo Muani made up for his penalty miss with a diving header two minutes later.

Lindstrom made it 3-1 in the 65th minute with a sublime lob over Hradecky from a tight angle before Kamada scored a 72nd-minute penalty as Hincapie was sent off for picking up a second yellow for a tackle on Kolo Muani.

Lucas Alario wrapped up the win with a tap-in in the 86th minute, scoring his first league goal for Frankfurt against his former side.

RB Leipzig scored three first-half goals before staving off a spirited Hertha Berlin comeback after the break to win an entertaining game 3-2. Goals from Emil Forsberg, Abdou Diallo and Willie Orbán had put Leipzig in a commanding position before Dodi Lukebakio and Stevan Jovetic pulled two back to set up a nervy finale.

This story will be updated

Champions League roundup: Bayern, Napoli and Brugge seal knockout places | Champions League

Bayern Munich cruised past Viktoria Plzen 4-2, putting them through to the knockout stage of the Champions League after punishing the Czech champions during a ruthless first-half display.

The victory combined with Barcelona’s 3-3 draw with Internazionale put Bayern through to the knockout stage while confirming the hosts’ exit. Bayern, who have now gone a record-extending 32 group matches in the competition without defeat, struck first after 10 minutes when Sadio Mané played a one-two with Leon Goretzka before putting the ball in the net.

An unmarked Thomas Müller doubled the visitors’ lead, before Goretzka nabbed two goals to round off the scoring for Bayern. Adam Vlkanova and Jan Kliment pulled goals back for the home side in the second half.

Napoli kept up their 100% record in the Champions League group phase and secured progress to the knockout stages by beating Ajax 4-2 at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.

Early goals from Hirving Lozano and Giacomo Raspadori put the Serie A leaders comfortably ahead by the 16-minute mark and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia added a second-half penalty after Davy Klaassen had pulled one back for Ajax.

The Dutch club made a desperate bid for a share of the spoils as Steven Bergwijn converted an 83rd-minute penalty to bring the score back to 3-2 but a terrible defensive error allowed Victor Osimhen to score Napoli’s fourth in the final minute.

Napoli’s 12-point haul means they are guaranteed a top-two finish in Group A, having scored 17 goals in four matches. Elsewhere in the section, Liverpool demolished Rangers 7-1 to put themselves a point away from qualification.

Hirving Lozano celebrates his opening goal with Victor Osimhen, who later came on to score Napoli’s fourth.
Hirving Lozano celebrates his opening goal with Victor Osimhen, who later came on to score Napoli’s fourth. Photograph: DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Club Brugge reached the knockout round after a 0-0 draw against Atlético Madrid guaranteed them a top-two spot in Group B. Atlético squandered a string of chances as they extended their winless streak in the competition to three games.

Elsewhere in the group, Porto’s Galeno scored one goal and earned two penalties for Mehdi Taremi to convert as they cruised to a 3-0 victory at Bayer Leverkusen, taking over second place with two matches remaining.

With manager Xabi Alonso making his Champions League debut on the Leverkusen bench, the German side quickly found themselves a goal behind after six minutes. Try as they might the hosts could not get back into the game with Porto keeper Diogo Costa pulling off several outstanding saves.

Porto’s win lifted them into second place on six points, Leverkusen are in fourth place on three points with only an outside chance of qualifying. Atlético are third on four.

In Group D, Marseille boosted their chances of reaching the last 16 with a 2-0 victory at nine-man Sporting. Mattéo Guendouzi and Alexis Sánchez scored before the break as Sporting, who lost Ricardo Esgaio and Pedro Gonçalves to red cards either side of the interval.

The result put Marseille in second place on six points, one behind Tottenham who beat Eintracht Frankfurt 3-2. Sporting are third on six points, two ahead of Eintracht.

European roundup: Tomori on target to help Milan defeat struggling Juventus | European club football

Milan secured a 2-0 win over rivals Juventus with goals from defender Fikayo Tomori and midfielder Brahim Díaz in a spirited Serie A clash at the San Siro.

The defending champions provisionally moved up two places to third in the standings on 20 points, level with leaders Napoli and second-placed Atalanta who both have a game in hand.

Juventus, who appeared to have turned a corner after beating Bologna 3-0 at home last weekend, following that up with a 3-1 victory against Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League in midweek, remain eighth on 13 points.

Milan made it 1-0 just before the break through Tomori who followed up a shot by Olivier Giroud and rifled the ball into the roof of the net. Díaz doubled Milan’s lead in the 54th minute when he took advantage of Dusan Vlahovic’s mistake and raced towards Juve’s goal, finishing off a solo effort with a brilliant strike.

Edin Dzeko’s 100th and 101st Serie A goals gave injury-ridden Internazionale a 2-1 victory at Sassuolo. The 36-year-old became the third-oldest player to reach the milestone behind Goran Pandev and Sergio Pellissier.

In Spain, Ángel Correa scored twice as Atlético Madrid won 2-1 against Girona to move up to fourth in La Liga. Girona made it difficult for the home side who relied on an inspired performance from Jan Oblak and got lucky when two second-half strikes from the visitors hit the post.

Both Correa’s goals were scored in the early minutes of each half. The Argentina international stroked in a close-range, first-time shot from an Antoine Griezmann cross to open the scoring after five minutes. Three minutes after the break, Correa intercepted a poor pass from goalkeeper Juan Carlos inside the box and buried the ball in the open goal.

Ángel Correa watches his shot go past Juan Carlos for Atlético Madrid’s second goal
Ángel Correa watches his shot go past Juan Carlos for Atlético Madrid’s second goal. Photograph: Juan Medina/Reuters

Girona reduced the deficit in the 65th minute when Rodrigo Riquelme’s long-range shot deflected off defender José Maria Gimenez, which took it beyond Jan Oblak.

Aleix García smashed a thundering strike off the post in the 77th minute and had a similar strike from the same spot that Oblak acrobatically tipped away. From the resulting corner, Santiago Bueno jumped high to deliver a towering header that smashed against Oblak’s left post. That was as close as Girona came to an equaliser.

Atlético’s win lifted them to 16 points, a point behind third-placed Athletic Bilbao who drew 1-1 at Sevilla, Mikel Vesga equalising for the visitors after Óliver Torres’s early goal. Atlético are three points behind the leaders Barcelona and Real Madrid, who have a game in hand.

In the main game in Germany, Borussia Dortmund scraped a 2-2 draw at home to Bayern Munich. Earlier, Bayer Leverkusen’s Moussa Diaby scored once and set up two for Jeremie Frimpong in a 4-0 demolition of visiting Schalke to give Xabi Alonso a winning start as a coach in the Bundesliga.

Diaby thundered in a shot from outside the area in the 38th minute before setting up Frimpong to drill in from a tight angle three minutes later.
The pair combined again eight minutes after the restart with Diaby again the provider and Dutch midfielder Frimpong slotting in from close range. Paulinho completed the rout with a well-timed run in the 90th minute.

This story will be updated

Xabi Alonso lands Bayer Leverkusen manager role after Seoane sacking | Bayer Leverkusen

Bayer Leverkusen have sacked their coach Gerardo Seoane and replaced him with Xabi Alonso.

The Bundesliga club said on Wednesday that they had “parted ways” with the Swiss coach and appointed the 40-year-old former Spain midfielder, who will be handed a contract until June 2024.

Seoane’s last game in charge was a 2-0 loss at Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday, days after his team was routed 4-0 at Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. Leverkusen are second from bottom in the league with just five points from the opening eight games.

The team were also knocked out in the first round of the DFB-Pokal by third-division team SV Elversberg. Seoane led Leverkusen to third place in the Bundesliga last season after joining from Swiss team Young Boys in 2021.

“In Xabi Alonso we have signed a coach who, as a player, was an absolute world-class professional for many years, an intelligent strategist and very successful in three of the most demanding European leagues,” sporting director Simon Rolfes said.

“Gerardo Seoane did good work for Bayer 04 over the past year and a half, especially with the excellent qualification for the Champions League. Unfortunately, we have strayed from the road to success.”

Leverkusen said it would unveil the former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich midfielder on Thursday.

Alonso was working as the head coach at Real Sociedad’s B team in Spain for the past three years after hanging up his boots in 2017. He left Real Sociedad at the end of last season.

Champions League roundup: Napoli pummel Ajax 6-1, Inter beat Barcelona | Champions League

Giacomo Raspadori scored twice as Napoli came from behind to deliver a masterclass and score a runaway 6-1 win at 10-man Ajax in the Champions League on Tuesday.

The captain, Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Piotr Zielinski, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and the substitute Giovanni Simeone added the other goals for the Italian league leaders, after Mohammed Kudus had given the hosts the lead inside the opening 10 minutes.

Napoli, who might have scored more such was their dominance, have a 100% record at the halfway point in Group A, leaving Ajax with three points from their opening three games and in danger of missing out on next year’s knockout stages after their biggest defeat in European football.

Internazionale bounced back after two consecutive losses in Serie A with a crucial 1-0 win against Barcelona thanks to a Hakan Calhanoglu goal. The midfielder slotted home a clinical strike from just outside the area, with the ball going into the corner to the goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen’s right in added time before the break. The home win lifted Inter to second place in Group C on six points, three behind leaders Bayern Munich and three in front of Barcelona.

Bayern struck three times in the opening 21 minutes en route to a 5-0 demolition of Viktoria Plzen to set a record for the longest unbeaten run in group matches. The German champions have now gone 31 group games in the competition without defeat.

Elsewhere, goals from Club Brugge forwards Kamal Sowah and Ferran Jutglà saw the Belgian champions beat Atlético Madrid 2-0 at home to extend their perfect run in Group B this season. The hosts took the lead in the 36th minute when Jutglà’s low pass across the goal found Sowah, who tapped the ball into an empty net for his second European goal in three games.

Jutglà doubled the lead in the 62nd minute after winger Tajon Buchanan calmly waited for the right moment to set up the Spanish forward inside the box. Atlético had a chance to get back into the match with a penalty 15 minutes later but Antoine Griezmann lashed the ball against the bar and moments later the forward thought he had scored but his effort was ruled out for offside. Porto substitutes Zaidu and Galeno were both on target as they beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 to seal the Portuguese side’s first victory in the group stage. They are level on points with Leverkusen after three matches.

Marseille secured their first Champions League win of the season when they recovered from a shaky start to outclass 10-man Sporting 4-1 in an incident-packed Group D encounter at an empty Stade Vélodrome. The game, played behind closed doors after crowd trouble marred Marseille’s home match against Eintracht Frankfurt, was delayed by more than 20 minutes following Sporting’s late arrival at the stadium due to a traffic jam.